Season 24 of the British GT Championship gets underway at Brands Hatch this weekend (April 16/17) in what promises to be another thrillingly unpredictable showcase of hard fought racing contested by some of the world’s finest supercars.
And that’s not just standard PR hyperbole, either. 2016-spec British GT has all the makings of a classic campaign thanks to a host of new machinery, teams, drivers and official tyre supplier. Indeed, 30 cars built by 10 different manufacturers also make this one of the most varied grids in series history.
This weekend’s season opener also marks a break with tradition by visiting Brands Hatch’s 2.433-mile GP Circuit for a single, two-hour event. That’s in contrast to the previous 11 years when Oulton Park played host to the curtain raiser. It also means that no crew will have to serve a pit-stop success penalty at Brands, something that potentially masked a team’s true potential during previous campaigns.
But who will come out on top? Here’s the form book ahead of the opening round.
The dismantling of British GT’s reigning title-winning crew and its Teams’ champions switching to a new manufacturer mean once reliable variables can no longer be counted on to provide a fairly accurate assumption. But we’ll do our best anyway…
For the first time in five years Beechdean AMR’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 doesn’t feature Jonny Adam’s name above the door. Instead, it’s reigning GT4 champion Ross Gunn that steps up from the High Wycombe squad’s record-breaking junior entry to partner team owner and two-time British GT champion Andrew Howard. Both drivers have played down their expectations but there’s no denying the potential that exists within the line-up as the season progresses. Perhaps Brands will come a little early, especially given Howard’s ELMS commitments at Silverstone.
It’s a different story for Adam, who moves across to partner Derek Johnston at TF Sport. The team’s two-car Aston Martin entry, which this season also features Mark Farmer and 2008 champion Jon Barnes, was the strongest over the final third of 2015, culminating in a one-two - and first victory for Johnston - at the Donington finale. His podium at Brands Hatch six weeks earlier was seen as a breakthrough moment for the team, which has designs on challenging for both titles this season. Expect its presence to be felt near the sharp end.
Reigning Teams’ champions Barwell Motorsport has won the last two British GT races held at Brands Hatch but cannot take continuity for granted this season after switching from BMW to Lamborghini. Two of its new-generation Huracan GT3s make the trip to Kent, both of which have the potential to win first time out. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who remain with the Surrey outfit, were perhaps the fastest crew not to score a victory in 2015, while Liam Griffin - who won twice - moves across from Motorbase Performance to partner Platinum-graded Lamborghini factory ace Fabio Babini.
It was Barwell’s Ecurie Ecosse-entered BMW that won in both 2014 and ’15 but, here too, changes have been made over the winter. Having amicably parted company with Barwell the Scottish concern - now known as Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse - has linked up with McLaren to aid its title assault. Alasdair McCaig was a winner on his British GT3 debut in 2012 while factory partner Rob Bell heads to Brands defending a 100% domestic record having scored victory on his only outing to date, at Silverstone in 2010.
Elsewhere, Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle came within a patch of oil of scoring their first ever British GT victory together at Brands Hatch last season. The BMW Z4 GT3 was the car to beat that day and the pair’s AmDTuning.com-run example spearheads the Bavarian firm’s assault this time around, too. Their long-overdue first British GT wins will have to come against new-generation rivals, but if there’s a circuit where the BMW excels then Brands is surely it.
Bentley is another to bring new-generation machinery to British GT this year thanks to Team Parker Racing’s sole Continental GT3. Rick Parfitt Jnr moves from Team LNT to partner GP3 Series convert Seb Morris aboard a car that has achieved significant success on the continent since. Morris’ single-seater pedigree allied with Parfitt Jnr’s potential make this a line-up capable of securing significant results.
Audi is also back this year thanks to Optimum Motorsport, whose all-new R8 LMS GT3 has already proven itself in other series. The Silver-graded driver combination is an interesting one: 2013 British GT4 champion Ryan Ratcliffe excelled during a one-off appearance with Team LNT last season, while Will Moore was a revelation in the GT4 category. Indeed, such was the latter’s speed that he moves from Bronze to Silver this year.
Ginetta - 2016’s seventh full-season manufacturer - will again have two cars in the senior class thanks to Tolman Motorsport, which is stepping up from GT4 to run a pair of G55 GT3s. 2015 Rookie of the Year Luke Davenport and co-driver David Pattison scored a thrilling victory for Tolman at Brands last season, while Mike Simpson - who shares his example with series returnee Ian Stinton - was partly responsible for Ginetta’s first British GT3 podium during Oulton’s opening weekend. Good omens all round.
Brands Hatch will also be the setting for a British GT record when Pete Littler becomes the first disabled driver to compete in any of its classes, let alone GT3. Littler is classified as 40% disabled after losing the lower section of his right leg. He also has false hips and a pin in his lower back. A top-six finish for he and 2012 British GT4 champion Jody Fannin would be a significant achievement for the PFL Motorsport-run Aston Martin.
After a season’s worth of experience racing with McLaren, another former GT4 champion - Ross Wylie - will be eager to fulfil his potential aboard a V12 Vantage. The Scot partners Phil Dryburgh at 2014 Teams’ champions Motorbase Performance, who took Griffin and Rory Butcher to fourth in the Drivers’ standings last season. Switching to a Pro/Am crew could be just the opportunity Wylie needs to showcase his talents.
Martin Short and Rollcentre Racing also make their long-awaited British GT returns with a Team ABBA-entered BMW Z4 GT3. Short and co-driver Richard Neary will be the category’s only all-Am pairing but feature recent race-winning experience after triumphing at this year’s Silverstone 24 Hours.
Click here to download British GT’s Brands Hatch entry list.
British GT Brands Hatch Timetable:
Saturday 16 April
09.30 - 10.30: Free Practice 1
12.10 - 13.00: Free Practice 2
16.45 - 16.55: Qualifying - GT3 Am
16.58 - 17.08: Qualifying - GT3 Pro
17.11 - 17.21: Qualifying - GT4 Am
17.26 - 17.36: Qualifying - GT4 Pro
Sunday 17 April
10.00 - 10:10: Warm-up
13.30 - 15.30: Race
Brands Hatch GP Circuit Lap Record (2.433 miles)
GT3: Alexander Sims, 2015, Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 - 1m26.651s
Pirelli tyre information
Pirelli supplies a single compound of slick tyre, the P Zero DHC tyre, for the GT3 class and the DH tyre for GT4. The Cinturato WH tyre will be used by both categories for wet weather – always a distinct possibility in mid-April in England.
These tyres have already proven successful in other GT championships, with ease of use for both professional and amateur drivers a key characteristic together with a quick warm-up, something the British drivers have already benefitted from during winter testing. Drivers have also praised the longevity of the tyres’ performance.
The Brands Hatch Grand Prix loop provides a great challenge for the drivers with fast, flowing and undulating corners, with relatively little room for error. Pirelli can call upon track knowledge from the Blancpain GT Series, which has visited the Kent venue since 2014. Braking and traction demands are low, and although the ever-increasing downforce of the latest GT3 cars is raising the lateral demands through corners, Pirelli’s worldwide experience can be relied upon. In mid-April, cool temperatures are most likely, so tyre performance should be consistent over the race distance.